Some Thoughts on Lifetime Achievement

Earlier today I was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award from SANS during one of our regular CERIAS faculty receptions. I certainly am honored by this, given the many wonderful things that SANS does to educate and support the information security and response community. I was especially honored to have Lance Spitzner travel to Purdue to present the award oh behalf of SANS, and to have several other people from the community and Purdue show up for the event.

Getting the award

Lance giving the award to Spaf

Over the last two or three years I have received a few awards that could be considered as “lifetime achievement” awards in one way or another. They are certainly not given more than once, and they are considered to represent a career’s worth of accomplishment. I’m not going to argue that I have, indeed, done a few things worthy of note, although I would be the first to admit that I have had great collaborators and partners along the way. And I have the gray hair and scars to prove I’ve been at this more than a few years. The point that troubles me a bit is … “lifetime”? Am I really at such an advanced stage of senescence? Is the end that close at hand? My next birthday approaches apace, and I now wonder if I should worry about reaching it! I’ve been getting AARP solicitations in the mail for a few years, so perhaps this is another sign I should get my affairs in order?

I went to the RSA conference last month and two people who were former undergrad students of mine took me out for meals. It was very pleasant to talk to them and catch up on their activities. Both have started companies and done things to change the world. And both were undergrad students of mine 21 years ago — that’s about half their current ages! But as we talked I realized that some of the big problems I taught them about are still problems today…that issues I was warning governmental agencies and companies were coming, did, and are still here. There’s a sense of being frozen in that era and yet, here are people giving me “lifetime achievement” awards and making jokes about my age and gray beard, and the problems I started my career addressing haven’t really progressed.

Well, that isn’t true: many of those problems have gotten worse. 😦

Maybe it isn’t a sign of decrepitude that I am getting these honors. Maybe these are subtle hints to get the hell out of the way so the youngsters can get the corner office? Well, that isn’t going to work. Yet. I still have a little bit of fire left, and with some luck (and the discounts from the AARP) I might yet make a dent in some of the big problems. I know there are several people who would like me to retire (including some of my faculty colleagues at Purdue) but I really enjoy working with students. Every time I hear from former students about some success, I know that I had a tiny bit of contribution in that somewhere back in time, and that’s a good feeling.

100 years from now, the awards will be forgotten, and I will be too. But I know that the world will be a better place because of the students I have worked with, and have yet to work with. That may sound a bit corny, but in truth, it’s why I’ve been doing this for 24 years – and am not about to stop. That good feeling is the real lifetime achievement award, and anyone who has really connected with students knows exactly what I mean. That is why the SANS award means something special, too – it is decided by people who teach in the the same field.

My thanks to SANS, and to everyone who showed up for the ceremony today for the honor, and for your support of what we are all trying to do.

About me.


One Response to “Some Thoughts on Lifetime Achievement”

  1. Simson Garfinkel Says:

    Congratulations! This is wonderful recognition for a lifetime of truly important work.


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